Monday, 13 June 2011

Moving Blogs. Update your bookmarks!

The time has come that my blog has to move. It's been fun using Blogspot for all these years, but finally I've moved my site, and created a website dedicated to my journalism writing and photography.

You can find it at


Saturday, 16 April 2011

Flagpoling, bacon, and finally landing

"You need to walk down the path, flagpole, come back and then we'll deal with you", the gun-toting, flak-jacketed Canadian Border Guard said to me; very matter-of-factly.

I came to Canada on a whim. It had been roughly nine months since I graduated university and the prospect of getting a "real" job was looming on the horizon. It was time for one last adventure, another twelve months of putting off the inevitable. I found a company online called BUNAC, who specialise in working holiday visas, applied for their 'Work Canada' scheme, and three months later I got on a plane to Vancouver.

Fast forward three years, and one huge life decision later, and I'm at Pacific Crossing, the US/Canada land border, about to give one of the scary looking immigration officials my landing documents.

It's a Friday evening, and it's raining. This is a slight issue, as the 40-year-old Chevy Nova that Tissa and I own is currently lacking working windscreen wipers. Whoever is in the passenger seat currently has to lean out of the window and manually move the wipers. I hope the rain doesn't intensify.

We walk down the path, past a stone marker signifying the end of Canada, and the start of 30 or so yards of No Mans Land, before the other marker, where you enter the United States. We're the only people on foot, and having got this extremely ceremonial, and perhaps slightly needless task out of the way, we continue back to the immigration office, where I get in line to be processed.

Fortunately we're the only ones there, so instantly the burly official beckons us to the desk. I tell him we flagpoled, and that I need to "land" in Canada, to finish off the past 26 months of paperwork, waiting, stressing out, and being tied to my job.

He ignores me and asks Tissa for her ID. She passes him her Drivers License. To which he asks her status in Canada. She's a permanent resident. But where is her Passport and Permanent Residence Card? "So you left Canada?" he asks. I guess we did, and technically that was illegal, as Tissa isn't in possession of her necessary documents. "Sorry," I reply, meekly. The border guard moves his attention back to me, and starts to study my documents. I'm told to sit down and wait to be called back.

A few minutes later and my name is called out. Mr Border Guard asks me the standard questions. Have I ever been convicted of a crime? Do I have any dependants? Have I ever been expelled from Canada? With those questions answered (no, to all - in case you are wondering!), I initial and sign a form - my landing document. A copy is put in my passport. "Congratulations", says the border guard. "Thank you," I reply. "This has been the most stressful process I've ever had to go through." The Border Guard breaks into a smile. "Can I shake your hand?", I ask. We shake hands, he grins, and we say our goodbyes. It's over, I'm a landed immigrant, a permanent resident, one of the locals.

We walk to the car and head back home. The rain isn't too bad, so we can see fine on the highway. Naturally, the first thing to do when one ends a process as immense as this is to find a place to eat. Bacon. Lots of bacon. We stop at Denny's. It's an American style diner. We both marvel at the ridiculous quantities of horribly unhealthy food on offer. Eggs Benedict. With Bacon. And a milkshake. Welcome to Canada.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Dreams become reality

The Jewell of the Pacific. Hollywood North. Rain City. All are nicknames for the great city of Vancouver, which celebrates 125 years today. I am proud to say that I live here, in such a beautiful place, full potential, full of nature, full of life.

I am also proud to say that on the morning of 24 March 2011 I received an Email from Canadian Immigration officials informing me that they were ready to issue me with a permanent residency visa. Finally, almost a year to the day that I applied for residency, and 26 months since I began the process - when I started work at Mink Chocolates, I can breathe easy. I can be a long-standing part of Vancouver's young history.

It's not been an easy ride. In fact at times I felt on the edge of oblivion. From doing the paperwork - knowing one missed tickbox, or one photograph submitted with incorrect dimensions could spell disaster; to the waiting period of more than four months without a word of confirmation that my application was filled in correctly. It has been a stressful year.

At any time I could receive a letter stating that my application had been refused. I would have to pack up the life I'd built in Canada for almost three years and jet back to the UK to start again from scratch. But it didn't happen. It's been granted. It's as good as over.

The day after I received the Email that made all my dreams come true I sent the immigration officials my passport. Now they will be attaching my landed immigrant visa, and I will meet with an immigration officer to confirm that I am in fact me, and I will officially "land" in Canada. From that moment on I am just another local. No longer hanging by the thread of a work permit that might not be renewable, no longer worrying that I might have to pack up and leave. Finally I can plan for the future. The world is once again filled with opportunity.

One huge aspect of applying for permanent residency was my ability, of lack thereof, to leave the country. Thinking that I'd be long since sorted by Christmas 2010, the Allen family made grand arrangements for what would be our first Christmas as a full family for probably five years. Tom, my brother, and Tenny, his wife, would be in England from Armenia, and Tissa and I would fly back from Vancouver. We'd all be together finally, Tissa and Tenny could talk Farsi to each other, and my dearest mother would cry!

Unfortunately it didn't happen. It was literally a week until we were due to fly out and I had heard nothing from my visa office. I called the hotline and was informed that since my application was at such a late stage I was strongly recommended to remain in Canada, as if I left I may not be allowed back in. I'd be turned away at the border. Possibly. Also possibly everything would be fine, but it was a serious risk, and not one worth taking. Distraught, I called home and all of our finely honed Christmas arrangements went up in smoke. Hotel bookings cancelled, trips to London and Klagenfurt to visit Tissa's family were lost, connections missed. I managed to salvage my flights at great cost, and now we are booked on another trip to the UK in a few short weeks. Hopefully this time we will be together finally, in the place my adventure began three long years ago, in the green and pleasant land of England.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Memories flow

One of my favourite memories from University is of a spontaneous trip to London to receive the gift of a free car. Naturally I have many other memories of drunken escapades, throwing flour around kitchens, sitting on roof tops drinking sweet Swedish cider, and organising, promoting and filming amateur boxing matches for no apparent reason. This incident however is one that lives in the memory and never fails to bring a smile to my face.

I thought about it again today at work, and decided it was about time to write it down, for sentiments sake. I remember the weather in Southampton, where I did my degree, being decidedly mild for what was winter at the time. I had been chatting to a good friend of mine who I knew through my various dealings in car owners clubs. (Anyone who knows me from back in the UK will know I was rather involved in collecting, restoring, and destroying cars in my younger years. The number of cars I’d owned or co-owned by the time I was 22 was the on the ridiculous side of 30. But I digress.)

So it was a mild late-winter's day. I`d been chatting to my buddy Marc, and now was on my way home from University. As I strolled down the damp street towards the T-Junction that led to the apartment I rented with two friends, I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. It was a text from Marc. ”You want a free car mate?” it read. Me? Free car? What a ridiculous question. I responded. It turned out that Marc had been offered an old BMW by a friend, but was lacking the space for it, so he got in touch. Not one to turn down an opportunity like this I contacted the owner and said I’d get the train to London to his house the following morning. He`d get rid of the car. I`d have a new project. Perfect.

It must have been a Friday, or having said that, any day of the week (since we were students after all) – as my friends and I were drinking that night. I’m not a big drinker, especially not these days, but for some reason my final year at University was strewn with excessive amounts of liver abuse, and abundant instances of post-alcohol bed-ridden syndrome. I’d booked a train ticket to London for early the following morning. Maybe I was being too optimistic.

The new day dawned, and with it, my hangover. I tried to get out of bed, but realised after one step that this was a bad idea. I was forced to run to my trash can and filled it up with the previous night`s beverages. Not the best start, I thought. Contacting the owner of the car I explained myself and my current plight. I was met with uncontrollable laughter on the other end of the phone, and he agreed that it might be prudent to catch a later train, and see him in the afternoon. I went back to bed.

Later on in the day, about 11:30am, and considerably more pilled up on paracetamol than before, I made my way to Southampton Station, and caught the train to London Waterloo. I enjoyed the train ride immensely, as it gave me time to gather my thoughts, get over my hangover, and play with my new toy – a Nikon D50 digital SLR camera. It had been raining and dull for a few days previous, but today the sun had come out from behind the clouds, and the sunlight reflected off the puddles on the pavement, and beaded off buses, trains, and buildings. It made for a great first photography adventure.

I knew I was going to Hounslow, a borough of South West London, but that was all I knew. I`d never been there before. Entering our nation’s capital for the first time in a couple of years was an interesting experience. Being on my own that day meant I could appreciate the sites of the old city all the more, with no distractions. I was in awe of the sheer scale of the city, the Victorian-era smog-stained buildings running parallel to new, shiny developments, and the incredible convergence of railway tracks at Clapham Junction. I`d always come to London by rail from the north before, so coming from a southerly direction, and seeing all the sites from this angle was new and exciting. Everything was so big, developed, industrialised, but with that run-down, ramshackle charm. Here was England.

I arrived at Waterloo, and somehow navigated my way to the correct underground train to get me to Hounslow. I enjoyed getting on the old Tube network, and working out how to navigate the spaghetti-like maze that is the Tube map. The map has become legendary these days. It`s reproduced in all manner of ways for your enjoyment – on posters, T-Shirts, postcards. You name it – the tourist can buy it.

Arriving in Hounslow the train left the depths of the underground, and breached the surface. Again I was bathed in post-rainstorm light. It was a quiet afternoon when I stepped off the train. I remember being the only one on the platform. The feeling of being in such a huge city, but being the only one around was strangely comforting. I took a few more photos, and wormed my way through the terraced streets of the urban sprawl of London to the car owner`s house. I got the keys, filled in some paperwork, and drove back to Southampton.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Edging Closer

Another day at Mink Chocolates. It's 10:30am. I've been at work for a few hours already, and the last of the 'morning rush' of regular customers has left the cafe. I'm on my break, sipping a Vanilla Latte. I think about the order of the day.

Lorraine comes in at 7:45am every day and has a large Costa Rica coffee. June, Angela and Idah order regular sized Americanos, a single shot Latte, and sometimes a couple of Dark Chocolate Fruit Parfaits. The Australian couple who live in Lions Bay will come in, order two large Mochas, and read the paper for 15 minutes, before wandering off. Terry has a regular latte in the morning, a regular Costa Rice in the afternoon. Latte Mike has a Latte - with skim milk, usually.

This is just part of the pattern will continue day after day. Week after week. Month after month. The longer serving members of staff at the cafe can often have a regular customers drink ready and waiting for them before they've paid for it. Sometimes before they're even in the door. Working in a coffee shop is fun - you get to know your customers very well, some of whom we now consider friends in their own right. I've met some extremely interesting people here. However after almost two years of it I'm about ready for a change.

There's an envelope addressed to me on the counter. It's from the Canadian Consulate General. "Thought this might be important", says my boss, Marc. He smirks. Important it may be indeed - it's four months since I did my medical exam for my immigration, and I've heard nothing. Is this what I've been waiting for?

I go into the back room and open the envelope. It's a letter with instructions on it. "We have now completed the initial assessment of your application" it reads. I peruse the rest of it. I'm told that there's no need for an interview, and I don't need to provide any additional documentation. What I do need to do, however, is provide $490CAD for the 'Right of Permanent Residence.' With that paid, and mailed by Express Post to my visa office things are looking good. Hopefully I'll have a passport request within a few weeks, so that the immigration officials can attach an immigration visa to it, and sometime early in the new year I'll finally become a permanent resident.